TOP TEN 2011

Because of the popularity of my post on the top ten South African books of 2012 – as published by The Star newspaper – I’ve decided to also post my other lists. The list for 2010 can be found here:

lost_groundLost Ground

Michiel Heyns

Jonathan Ball

In spite of dealing with the clash between personal and political history – and how the two are inextricable, no matter how determinedly individuals might deny that – Lost Ground grows lush out of the simplest elements of outstanding story making. Believable story facts, entertaining dialogue, gentle tension that builds gradually, an acute sense of time, place and character and – most delightfully – humour, enliven this South African dorp story. Deceptively packaged as a crime novel, but landing explosively in the heart as only literature can, Heyns’ wonderful book has a reach wide enough to hold even the fussiest and most easily bored of readers.

Double Negativedouble negative

Ivan Vladislavic


Vladislavic’s extended meditation on the alienation in your own country offers ways of seeing by running his themes through first one photographer, then another’s, camera lens. Searing, short passages of truth sting in a focused narrative from this award-winning Joburg writer.

bad sexBad Sex

Leon de Kock


The narrator’s failed relationships lead him to therapy where uncomfortable memories  from his rough and ready sixties Mayfair childhood are exhumed to provide hard to swallow truths about the present. Unashamedly butch, brave and  authentic.

Sometimes there is a voidsometimes there is a void_image_lowres

Zakes Mda


An engaging memoir by this writer of commercially and critically successful books. Mda tells how he was shaped by his father, about the women in his life, about politics and art, and about post-democracy disappointments.

30 Nights in Amsterdam-Etienne Van Heerden_image_lowres30 Nights in Amsterdam

Etienne Van Heerden


Van Heerden’s idiosyncratic voice and his ability to elasticise language remain intact in this outstanding translation from Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns. Utterly engaging characters make this story of self-discovery, history, psychology and politics a thumping read.


Mongane Wally Serote


A poignant post-democracy view of the entanglement of past, present and future. Chile and Zimbabwe –with their traumatised psyches, like South Africa – make up the trio of countries in which the individual’s life is set against a complex background.

killing kebbleKilling Kebble: An Underworld Exposed

Mandy Wiener

Pan Macmillan

Thorough journalism gives us the inside track on a fascinating South African saga of crime and corruption, power and policing. The gritty, bizarre and tragic details are lifted into the light for our appalled benefit.

Read here about the killers that are going to star as themselves in the movie based on this book.


Hanlie Retief


Retired super sleuth Piet Byleveld’s story is told to a seasoned journalist. Any news follower will recognise the names of some of the cases he’s helped solve in murder-rife South Africa. As compelling as road-kill.


Henrietta Rose-Innes


With musical fluency Rose-Innes tells a story about a female pest remover, sucking great opposites into her narrator’s unusual  scope. Returning to her favoured themes of the city and the creatures that inhabit it, Rose-Innes writes charmingly.

little-liberia-jb_webLittle Liberia: An African Odyssey in New York

Jonny Steinberg

Jonathan Ball

Venturing out of South Africa, this enormously talented writer reminds us of both our cruelty and our resilience in a story about ex-pat Liberians in New York. Steinberg has the gift of turning thorough research into captivating, lucid prose.

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